Three Alaskan Reporters Head to a Sports Bar to Find Romance, Beer
by Lauren Rosenthal, Alexandra Gutierrez, and Stephanie Joyce
Alexandra, Stephanie, Lauren
The fishermen look us up and down as we walk through the door of the local sports bar. They’re quizzical, then mostly apathetic. They continue to play pool, check their phones, do anything but approach us. The bearded guys hunched over their beers continue to stare at their beers.
We’re too late for open mic, but a rousing rendition of Joan Osborne’s “One of Us” later rises from one of the tables.
Our table. The male-to-female ratio at the bar is about five to one, but we’re six women and one gay man.
While two reporters from The Washington Post may have spent four days in Alaska to find love, we have gone all in, traveling 4,500 miles from various corners of the East Coast to Unalaska, Alaska, America’s largest fishing port a fishing village.
It’s a remote industrial town with 2,000 permanent residents and one of the largest percentages of single men in the United States. It’s also the backdrop for The Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch, which none of us watch.
Before we moved here to work in public radio, everyone made wisecracks about falling for lumberjacks and never moving back HAHA. But the wind blows so hard that there are no trees on this island, and we were mostly after decent-paying jobs with health insurance, not Romance. Alexandra came here from Washington, DC, two years ago, and Stephanie also dropped plans to move to the District in favor of Unalaska. Lauren — well, Lauren chose this place over Milwaukee.
On Friday, we sat in our newsroom lamenting the state of Washington Post reporters Tara Bahrampour and Annie Gowen’s love lives. We tried empathizing. One of us is carrying on a one-sided, emotionally inappropriate long-distance relationship, via Gchat; one of us is in an on-again, off-again relationship with a once-divorced playboy; one of us just adopted a puppy with her live-in boyfriend.
The story wasn’t resonating — in part because it seemed so far from the Alaskan manscape we knew. What did everyone else seem to know about these men that we didn’t?
To find out, we went straight to the source. THE MEN.
Stephanie and Alexandra
Exactly 54 minutes passed before any men approached us. We were drinking whiskey sodas and eating fun-sized Snickers bars when two cod fishermen, Angel and Arnie, sat down next to us.
Angel was wearing a Yankees cap and baggy pants. Arnie had a neck tattoo that read “Lucy” and was wearing a titanium promise ring. Lucy was not the name of his significant other, but rather his dead dog.
“Are you married?” they ask.
“No. Are you looking for love?” we respond.
Angel’s answer is an emphatic ‘no,’ but he does list a number of things he is looking for: a bunch of pot, a fat check, and maybe someone to clean for him. A soulmate? Not so much.
Arnie says he’s already found love, with his 20-year-old bride-to-be, Smith. They have a one-year-old son, who Arnie says will probably be a fisherman someday.
As we press them about their hopes and dreams and whether they involve local ladies in any real way, Arnie keeps bumping into our friend Samantha’s leg. Another friend, Laresa, calmly informs Arnie that she will destroy him if he does it again, and the men say their goodbyes. Neither tries to take us home, and they definitely do not propose.
Arnie and Angel were mostly indulging our questioning about love and life because they had nothing better to do. Clearly, neither did we.
I only spoke with one man at the sports bar, and he was very, very gay.
James is a waiter who hails from New York. He can cook. He likes board games. If he holds a steaming mug of coffee, he looks page 7 of the J. Crew catalog. At one point, we end up on the patio, smoking Camel Lights and chatting about the emotional strain of living on an island in Alaska. I have nothing to complain about, having been here for three weeks, but James affirms the ever-loving shit out of me.
“It can be very trying,” he says. “But the friends you make here — just, wow. You can really connect with people, you know?”
YES. I know! I want to know. I would like to know. I haven’t wanted to say, “Please be my friend,” since my family moved when I was in fourth grade, but I want to say it to James.
Later, he brings me the most embarrassing drink the bar serves. It tastes like blue, garnished with an umbrella and a maraschino cherry.
“Happy birthday,” he says.
I thank him, only a little embarrassed.
Around closing time, a male acquaintance approaches me. Kyle is a BFG of a man, and his face would not look out of place on a roll of paper towels. He has recently broken up with his girlfriend.
“I see you hiking a lot. We should go out sometime,” he says.
Grabbing a pen, he writes the last four digits of his number on my hand. The first six are the same for everyone in town.
The next afternoon, I am a detoxing wretch of a human being and I’ve still got ink smeared on me. I grab my phone and text, “How goes?”
The message isn’t for Kyle, but for Jeff. He’s my best friend here, lives directly across the street from me, and is the exemplar Alaskan that the WaPo women never sincerely set out to meet. I mean, c’mon. Dude has a luxurious beard, built himself a cabin on a remote beach, and wrote a book about Alaska’s role in WWII.
When I moved from DC to Alaska, romance wasn’t in mind. I had a serious boyfriend who was funny and talented. But when you’re four time zones apart, it’s hard to reconcile two lives when one is very Aaron Ross Sorkin and the other is more Laura Ingalls Wilder. We broke up when I traveled home for Christmas.
If there is a recipe for rebounding with the man with whom you watch The Daily Show and drink too much bourbon, it involves January in Alaska. Jeff started off as a winter boyfriend. But that’s okay. Because in Alaska, winter is long. We have been on and off, but mostly on ever since.
Of the four men I talk to at the bar, four ask if I’m married.
“No. Definitely not. Never… Yeah. No.”
Except I might as well be. I used to check out boys. Now I compare: “What skills does that dude have that Joe doesn’t?”
It’s a game played with weighted dice. It rained while we were camping on my last birthday. Joe soaked through his flannel trying to keep our fire going so he could cook dinner. He once rescued a friend who fell through river ice and accepted only a pair of sneakers in return. Last summer he jumped, crampons and all, into a water-filled glacier crevasse. He is raising a Malamute. Pretty close to the Alaskan ideal.
He’s from Minnesota.
Ostensibly Joe moved to Unalaska in February for love (of me), but I’m pretty sure his real goal is to become a rugged Alaskan man.
He’s mostly learning how from me. Lauren did me the favor of transcribing my side of our latest phone conversation, when Joe called to say he caught a salmon.
“Have you killed it yet? Are you going to gut it? Do you need me to gut it? Okay, I’ll be there in five.”
After our big night out at the bar, we all meet up for a bruncheon, and conversation turns to Joe’s freaky engineering skills. “I’m applying for a job at a nuclear facility in Maryland,” he says. Cue laughter. “It’s not like it sounds. I’d be working on the tools that let you see inside metal things. Like batteries.”
Uh, okay. So where in Maryland?
Joe and Stephanie and the puppy! Heading out to Washington, D.C.?
They aren’t the only ones. Alexandra is leaving next week for a trip to our nation’s capital to visit her family and search for an effeminate / overworked man and fall in love and ne’er return. Or just get a job closer to home.
But before she does, she takes me onto the Seattle-based Starlite to meet a different breed of fisherman (sorry, Angel).
We board the boat and are immediately greeted by the crew — three low-key, middle-aged men. Sweatpants and grins all around. The engineer, Dave, trades me a number 2 pencil for a tour of the galley and deck. (“There are usually pencils everywhere on this damn boat but I can’t find a single one,” he says.)
As he walks me through the Starlite, Dave stresses that fishing kind of sucks. It’s lonely, it’s gross, and after a while, it’s monotonous. But the schedule keeps him and the rest of the crew coming back season after season. They could make the same amount of money working desk jobs, he explains, or they could get four months off at a time “and avoid driving in traffic every day.”
The crew sends us packing with ridiculous amounts of free meat pulled from their freezer. Dave was perfectly friendly on our tour, but he gets a little salty when he tries to make Alexandra take a pack of giant sausages, “or you could take these smaller ones, if that’s better for you.”
She promises to cook the guys Cuban food this week, and we exit the boat with 30 pounds of frozen beef shoved in my purse.
If Stephanie and Alexandra abandon Alaska for wonkier pastures, that will leave me — well, me and about 3,000 fishermen and seasonal workers. Most of them are here for something other than love. But then again, so am I.
What this island lacks in trees, and in single, bearded, sensitive, non-threatening men, it makes up for in mountains and beaches, hiking trips and dinner parties. As far as I am concerned, there is plenty of love here in Alaska.
But I could also go for a tree.
Lauren Rosenthal, Alexandra Gutierrez, and Stephanie Joyce are three public radio reporters with skills. You can hear them at www.kucb.org.
Photo via People